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Sex Predator Bill

February 18, 1998
By: Ann S. Kim
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The parents of a raped and murdered nineteen year old Kansan urged Missouri lawmakers to enact law that could put predatory sex offenders in indefinite custody.

"My daughter received the death penalty from a sex offender who had served half his sentence," Gene Schmidt said to a House committee Tuesday.

Schmidt's daughter Stephanie was raped and killed in 1993 by a co-worker, a rapist who had served ten years of his prison term.

After Stephanie's death, Schmidt and his wife Peggy began their push to strengthen sexual predator laws. Kansas adopted their sexual predator law in 1994, only to have the Kansas Supreme Court strike it down in 1996. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law last June, giving states the green light to draft similar legislation, popularly dubbed "Stephanie's Laws." Under the bill, sexual predators would be under the custody of the mental health department for "control, care and treatment" as long as they are likely to commit predatory acts of sexual violence--a time period that some experts say will last the offender's entire life.

Opposition to the bill came from Thomas Carver of the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Carver warned that the bill would set up a system in which people are punished not for what they have done, but what they might do.

"You're really getting into fortune telling," Carver said.

Directing committee members' attention to a book bearing Stephanie's photo on the cover, Peggy Schmidt said, "We challenge you to look into the eyes of this young woman. See the spirit in her life, know that it's all gone now. Know you don't have to wait for another Stephanie Schmidt, Megan Kanka or Polly Klaas."

The bill is backed by the Speaker of the House, Steve Gaw, D-Moberly. Gaw argued that this legislation would help to give Missouri the strongest sexual predator laws in the country. Gaw sponsored legislation in 1996 that allowed life imprisonment and required lifetime parole for sexual predators. The proposed measure, proponents argue, is needed in part because the other laws don't apply to sex offenders sentenced before 1996.

Gov. Mel Carnahan has thrown his support behind the legislation. Carnahan has emphasized the need to crack down on sexual predators and had highlighted the issue in his January State of the State address.